Is Air Pollution Affecting Your Investment?


According to the World Health Organisation, 4.2 million deaths occur every year as a result of exposure to ambient air pollution

Researchers at Swansea University launched a major study earlier this month to look at how everyday pollution affects the development and health of foetuses and children. Many urban areas in the UK have illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution, produced primarily by diesel vehicles, which can lead to asthma and has been linked to about 9,000 premature deaths in London every year.

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We live in a time when climate change is very much on the agenda, with UK targets aiming for net zero by 2050. But at the same time, air pollution is having a very real impact on health, with an inquest ruling in 2021 that it had ‘made a material contribution’ to the death of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s death in 2013.

What does this mean for your city investments?

The combination of climate change, rising energy prices and the pandemic has seen a change in what tenants are looking for:

  • Energy efficient properties. The interest in greener properties is rising along with the cost of living. Tenants are looking for ways to reduce their bills as energy prices sky-rocket, so the higher your EPC rating, the better
  • People are moving out of cities. While there hasn’t been a mass exodus from cities, as work-from-home and flexible hours become normalised, tenants now have the option to live further from their offices, saving money on rent and spreading the cost of a longer and possibly more expensive commute over fewer days in the office
  • Remote working. For many who have been able to go completely remote, they are able to make a choice to move somewhere much less polluted, which is a benefit to their health

If you invested in properties close to city centres with great transport links, with a view to renting to young professionals, you may now be feeling the pinch when it comes to finding new tenants. However, there has been a surge in people looking for single rooms to rent as people begin the ‘return to normal life’ and move back to the cities from family homes elsewhere.

However, before the pandemic, in 2019, there was a citizen-funded campaign that flagged the illegal levels of toxic air to London buyers and renters, with slogans such as:

Location, location, lung disease

The intention had been to take the campaign nationwide and while it did seem to lose traction due to the pandemic and subsequent breaking news stories, this could be something that may come back to haunt city-dwellers.

What is indoor air pollution?

As well as ambient pollution outside your property, you also need to consider the danger of indoor pollution. The WHO estimates that indoor pollution is responsible for 3.8 million deaths every year and has found that indoor levels of pollution are in many cases higher than those outdoors.

Radon is a common indoor air pollutant, that is second only to smoking in causing lung cancer. It’s an odourless, colourless and tasteless pollutant that is formed by the natural decay of uranium from rocks and soil.

Studies have shown that when radon is discovered to be affecting an area or property, richer people move out and poorer people move in – showing that the presence of radon drives down the value of a property and an area. 

How can landlords protect their tenants from air pollution?

Air pollution is something that affects us all, especially in developed countries where we rely so heavily on machines that create pollution. The huge amount of vehicles on the roads generate levels of pollution that severely affect lives across the country. On a big picture level, there doesn’t seem to be much that landlords can do to minimise outdoor air pollution, but you should make sure that your windows are up-to-date, especially if your property is by a busy road. This isn’t just good for energy efficiency, it also means you’re minimising the fumes that could leak into the property and harm your tenant.

When it comes to indoor air pollution, we’ve seen that poorer people are disproportionately affected by this. But you as the landlord have a lot more power to protect your tenant:

  • Learn about radon. As a landlord, it’s your responsibility under the Duty of Care and the Housing Act to provide a safe home and, as we’ve seen, radon is a dangerous gas to have in and around your property. The UK Health Security Agency have a Radon Team that you can contact to make sure your property is safe and advise on any necessary next steps
  • Tackle damp and mould. Damp and mould in a property can damage the property itself, by causing issues with plaster and brickwork, but it can also play havoc with your tenants health. Make sure you deal with issues as soon as your tenant flags them so their health is not put at risk 
  • Install vents. Make sure that your tenants are able to vent the property appropriately. Do you have ventilation over the cooker? Is your Gas Safety Certificate up-to-date (don’t forget our free Document Storage tool reminds you when your certificates are coming up to expiration)? If you are looking to update the windows, can you get some with vents, to allow airflow even in bad weather?

We hope that government intervention will help bring down the levels of air pollution, so that this isn’t such a dangerous issue in the future. However, in the meantime, building a great relationship with your tenants and working together to keep the property safe and happy is the very best thing you can do as a landlord.

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